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Design Thesis

Part 2 Project 1998
Edward Murray
Dawn Spicer
De Montfort University | UK
The thesis was conceived out of a belief that contemporary architecture is often superficial in how it validates a purely site specific response as an authentic architectural identity, without reference to cultural influences or symbolism.

The Australian Aboriginal culture, currently finds itself mediating between a global and situational identity. On one hand needing to communicate a shared sense of identity at a public level and on the other maintaining the individuality and specificity of a diverse tribal heritage. The thesis seeks to translate the collective identity of the Aboriginal culture into a contemporary architecture investigating the cultural constructs of myth, ritual, religion and craft. While acknowledging that contemporary indigenous culture is a hybrid the thesis considers it no less valid and incorporates cultural narratives from a both indigenous and the wider Australian culture. The narratives are at times juxtaposed, at times reinforcing emphasising culture and landscape.

The plan form is derived through circular geometry abstracted from Aboriginal sign systems and ‘The Snake Dreaming Painting’, the undulations being moderated by the contours of the site and lake shore. Functions within the building are divided into two sets of spaces which also dictate the environmental strategies adopted. The meeting places or ‘Cooberres’ such as the auditorium and cafe are located in bulbous circular structures, while the gallery or ‘journey space’ is defined along a linear route. Separate environmental strategies are adopted for each space. The reduced heat load of the gallery space is cooled by night purging with cross ventilation, while the high heat load experienced in the meeting spaces is tempered by ground cooling with passive ventilation.

The concept of totemism is expressed through anthropomorphic references in the structure, the ‘skeleton’ of the laminated timber portals is expressed internally with each being rotated about an elliptical path to induce movement, further animation of the form is achieved by the use of precast ‘legs’ to mediate between the body of the roof and the ground.

The resultant expressive form is a sinuous slither on the landscape, with undulations that reflect the mountains beyond and a strategy that minimises the environmental impact on the landscape.
Edward Murray
Dawn Spicer

The Thesis project at the Leicester School of Architecture marks the completion of work leading to RIBA Part 2. It is a comprehensive and challenging project, in which the student is required to conceive of a design thesis [literally stated in a complete sentence] which is subsequently explored and demonstrated. The intention has always been to encourage students to invest design with discursive thought, that is, to invest the development of architecture with that density of reference and interest so often neglected in design processes aimed at explicit functional or formal objectives. Historically, this has lead in the Thesis project to a variety of striking confrontations between unlikely narrative components. We too, of the satanic mills of Leicester, have opted for the cathection of the architectural sign through its submission to ironic tropes. At Leicester, however, the Department places an even more significant emphasis on technology and practice in consequence of its claims to professional realism. [Ref.: hefce Q244/94] This can be seen in the way that the Thesis has carried the burden of establishing a student’s ‘Part 2 competence’ [?] in addition to that of architectural substance.

Spicer’s is one of the best example, so far at the Leicester School, of a project which addresses this otherwise unreasonable requirement of breadth in the documentation of entry level competence. She has commenced with an idea of the incommensurability of aboriginal and global-European cultural values - this project had a precursor in the design of an aboriginal ‘embassy’ sited next to Australian Government buildings - and finished with a realistic, considered proposition for a building. [Cognoscenti will note that at half-way point, the building makes use of the geometry of the Sydney Opera House roofs, broken into a series of segments.] It is a miracle. The concept begins with ideas of story-lines and alignment with significant elements in the aboriginal landscape, animal forms, bureaucratic programme, environmental morality, etc., etc., and it ends up as a drawing of construction. This is the best of what we do at Leicester.

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